Co-inventor of the product bar code dies

Dec. 14, 2012 at 4:13 PM
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EDGEWATER, N.J., Dec. 14 (UPI) -- The co-inventor of the bar code found on almost every product modern society creates and sells has died in New Jersey, his family said.

N. Joseph Woodland, 91, died at his home in Edgewater Dec. 9, his daughter Susan told The New York Times.

Woodland was a graduate student in mechanical engineering in the late 1940s when he and a classmate, Bernard Silver, created a technology of printed stripes of varying width to encode consumer-product information that could be optically scanned.

Woodland and Silver patented the idea, but it was ahead of its time and only earned the two men $15,000.

However, their invention led to the familiar rectangular box, formally known as a universal product code, commonplace on almost every consumer item in the world.

Woodland and Silver were at the Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia, now Drexel University, when a local supermarket executive visited the campus and asked about the possibility of an efficient means of encoding product data.

Woodland, leaning on his knowledge of Morse code learned as a Boy Scout, thought of changing its dots and dashes into a series of wide and narrow stripes.

Woodland later went to work at IBM, staying with the computer technology company until his retirement in 1987.

In 1992, he received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, and last year was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

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